Where the verses deal with those ideas that are common to Christians and Buddhists, the versions are easily intelligible, and some of the stanzas appeal very strongly to the Western sense of religious beauty. Where the stanzas are full of the technical terms of the Buddhist system of self-culture and self-control, it is often impossible, without expansions that spoil the poetry, or learned notes that distract the attention, to convey the full sense of the original. In all these distinctively Buddhist verses the existing translations (of which Professor Max Müller's is the best known, and Dr Karl Neumann's the best) are inadequate and sometimes quite erroneous. The connexion in which they were spoken is often apparent in the more ancient books from which these verses have been taken, and has been preserved in the commentary on the work itself.
In the next little work the framework, the whole paraphernalia of the ancient akhyāna, is included in the work itself, which is called Udāna, or "ecstatic utterances." The Buddha is represented, on various occasions during his long career, to have been so much moved by some event, or speech, or action, that he gave vent, as it were, to his pent-up feelings in a short, ecstatic utterance, couched, for the most part, in one or two lines of poetry. These outbursts, very terse and enigmatic, are charged with religious emotion, and turn often on some subtle point of Arahatship, that is, of the Buddhist ideal of life. The original text has been published by the Pāli Text Society. The little book, a garland of fifty of these gems, has been translated by General Strong. The next work is called the Iti Vuttaka. This contains 120 short passages, each of them leading up to a terse deep saying of the Buddha's, and introduced, in each case, with the words Iti vuttam Bhagavalā - "thus was it spoken by the Exalted One." These anecdotes may or may not be historically accurate.
It is quite possible that the memory of the early disciples, highly trained as it was, enabled them to preserve a substantially true record of some of these speeches, and of the circumstances in which they were uttered. Some or all of them may also have been invented. In either case they are excellent evidence of the sort of questions on which discussions among the earliest Buddhists must have turned. These ecstatic utterances and deep sayings are attributed to the Buddha himself, and accompanied by the prose framework. There has also been preserved a collection of stanzas ascribed to his leading followers. Of these 107 are brethren, and 73 sisters, in the order. The prose framework is in this case preserved only in the commentary, which also gives biographies of the authors. This work is called the Thera-therī-gāthā.
Another interesting collection is the Jātaka book, a set of verses supposed to have been uttered by the Buddha in some of his previous births. These are really 550 of the folk-tales current in India when the canon was being formed, the only thing Buddhist about them being that the Buddha, in a previous birth, is identified in each case with the hero in the little story. Here again the prose is preserved only in the commentary. And it is a most fortunate chance that this - the oldest, the most complete, and the most authentic collection of folklore extant - has thus been preserved intact to the present day. Many of these stories and fables have wandered to Europe, and are found in medieval homilies, poems and story-books. A full account of this curious migration will be found in the introduction to the present writer's Buddhist Birth Stories. A translation of the whole book is now published, under the editorship of Professor Cowell, at the Cambridge University Press. The last of these poetical works which it is necessary to mention is the Sutta Nipāta, containing fifty-five poems, all except the last merely short lyrics, many of great beauty. A very ancient commentary on the bulk of these poems has been included in the canon as a separate work.
The poems themselves have been translated by Professor Fausböll in the Sacred Books of the East. The above works are our authority for the philosophy and ethics of the earliest Buddhists. We have also a complete statement of the rules of the order in the Vinaya, edited, in five volumes, by Professor Oldenberg. Three volumes of translations of these rules, by him and by the present writer, have also appeared in the Sacred Books of the East.
There have also been added to the canonical books seven works on Abhidhamma, a more elaborate and more classified exposition of the Dhamma or doctrine as set out in the Nikāyas. All these works are later. Only one of them has been translated, the so-called Dhamma Sangani. The introduction to this translation, published under the title of Buddhist Psychology, contains the fullest account that has yet appeared of the psychological conceptions on which Buddhist ethics are throughout based. The translator, Mrs Caroline Rhys Davids, estimates the date of this ancient manual for Buddhist students as the 4th century B.C.